Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Return Trip: Tanalian Falls

Today and yesterday—intermittent clouds and sun. If the wind doesn't blow, and the sun shines, and you can stand exactly under a patch of sunlight, then it might count as warm for five minutes until the wind starts blowing again.

Sunday—amazing weather, sunny and incredibly warm, like a semi-tropical August day. In the 60s, that is.

Doesn't sound warm to you? Trust me, after a week in the low fifties, it was warm. And so, with two others from the lodge crew, I ran for the hills that afternoon.

We had a particular destination in mind, though...Tanalian Falls.

Last year, I made this hike with a group from the lodge, heading up The Fire Break—as it is known locally. As I found then, the Fire Break trail climbs the ridge in giant stair-steps, held in place only by its tree-root reinforcing.

This time, though, the hiking party voted in favor of the Beaver Pond trail. The trail loops more leisurely around the ridge around—what else?—the Beaver Pond.

We were about half-way up before we realized that “pond” could also be applied to the path in places. The park service has very helpfully installed boardwalks in sections of the trail, but such help can be deceptive.

Here, at a narrow corner of the trail known now as Jael’s Diving Board, the close proximity of the boards suggests an easy jump across the puddle to safety, once you edge far enough out on the soft, water-logged tundra.

Unfortunately, the near end of the board is floating in about ten inches of water. (I went the long way around on high ground.)

We didn’t let a few puddles stop us, however. We were head for bigger water—here!

Yes, that is snow you see on the right.

And, yes, it really is spring here.

We saw a number of other flowers on the hike up, and I got a botany lesson on cranberries, crowberries, and tundra, plus a chance sighting of two purple violets. It's still early for most of the flowers, but they're starting to come out.

At the falls, we wandered about for a while, took photos, joked about going wading. I wanted to wade across to the land of greener grass.

Since that didn't work, though, we climbed up the hillside instead, and got even more photos. (Maybe I should go into business as a postcard photographer. Let's see, who could I pester about that?)

Speaking of hillsides—it's easier to climb trees than it is to climb rocks. The trees tend to stay in place, assuming they aren't rotten stumps pretending to be firmly rooted supports. The rocks tend to crumble off in chunks.

Also speaking of hillsides, we came back down the Fire Break. It's easy going downhill, especially when you're headed home for dinner!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Night Shot 12: In the Shadows

In which, following Silas’s explanation for the shadow, however vague, it is once more night…


The sky was changing between evening and sunset as Jerry pulled up in front of Silas’s shop. The garage was dark, but a light still shone through the office window.

As Jerry parked the Honda against the curb, he saw the office light switch off and Silas came out. The old man wore a thick coat and brown fisherman’s hat. As Silas turned to lock his office, Jerry noticed that he was carrying a large flashlight in one hand and small package folded under his arm.

Jerry got out and leaned against the car, waiting.

Silas shuffled down the path. He grinned as he noticed Jerry and waved. “I hope you remembered your camera.”

Jerry held up his camera bag in answer. “Were you planning to drive down?” he asked.

Silas shook his head. “It’s not so far,” he said.

Jerry shrugged and zipped his coat. “This is ridiculous—absolutely, totally ridiculous. Maybe the shadow is related to that psychologist.

It was nearly dark before they reached the station. Silas walked with a sort of shuffling trot, glancing from side to side and sniffing the wind. Jerry trailed after him reluctantly, clutching the strap on his camera bag and trying to remember not to bite his nails as he imagined all the things that might make a shadow. “So Silas thought it was time-travelers—wouldn’t it just a likely be ghosts or monsters of some kind? The type with big glowing eyes and no faces, or holes where their faces should be? Or not anything at all—just an empty nothing that could pull you away to a place…somewhere…

“There is it!” Silas said happily. “What do you think—should we stay by the parking lot?”

Jerry caught up with him and stared at the tall gray building. In the dusk it looked like any other abandoned train station—one or two windows boarded over, the others peeking out through dusty panes.

“You were by the parking lot last night, right?” Silas asked.

Jerry mumbled something and nodded.

“Then we’ll stay here.”

He went on, skirting the row of pines along the parking lot, and finally ducking behind them. Jerry pushed after him and found him in a narrow hollow between the trees. “Great place to watch from,” Silas decided. “We can watch the station, and no one would see us here unless we jumped on them.”

Jerry looked around dismally. Pine needles covered the ground, and grass grew in sparse patches between the trees, but the ground was still soaked from last night’s rain. “Yeah, I knew it was a bad idea, at the time. A really bad idea. So why did I do it?

Silas, however, was already unfolding the package he had brought. It looked to Jerry like a piece of stiff cloth, but he helped Silas shake it out over the ground.

Silas carefully lowered himself onto it. “Waterproof,” he explained, not waiting for Jerry’s question. “But it’s canvass, so it should be quieter than a regular tarp. I thought it out several years ago.”

Then there was quietness and darkness for a long time. Dusk passed, night came, and nothing changed.

Jerry got his camera out and fiddled with the settings, “So it would be ready if…” But he didn’t finish that thought. The wind began to blow—even in the pines Jerry shivered and huddled into his coat. He couldn’t see Silas, but he could feel the old man beside him, still craning and stretching to see through the pine branches. Jerry wondered if it might rain.

The sky stayed clear, though, and the platform light glowed across the parking lot. The moon rose slowly above them.

After a long time, Jerry picked up his camera and leaned back. He almost had the focus right, but the wind set the branches swaying and he had to wait for them to still.

“Where were you the other nights?” Silas asked abruptly.

Jerry almost jumped at the sound, but he held the camera frozen in place. “Hunh—what?” he mumbled, sliding the zoom out slightly.

“The first couple times you saw the shadow—when you got the photos.”

“What—oh, that,” Jerry straightened and studied the photos blinking past on his display before they vanished into blankness like the night around him. “I don’t know—over on the edge of town, I guess. One was by the factories, but the other one I just found this place where the street lights look like they’re playing tic-tac-toe, and with the bushes behind them…”

It was too dark to see anything in the pines, but Jerry felt Silas’s start. The old man leaned toward him and pointed toward the east corner of the building. “What’s that? Did you see it?” he whispered.

“What? Where?” Jerry whispered back.

Silas was already scrambling up and Jerry started to follow. They edged their way forward, but before they could reach the gravel, the shadow moved in front of them, heavy and solid against the platform light.

(The story is almost over—coming next is Night Shot 13! I will post the final installment on June 8th.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Night Shot 11: Silas's Story

In which, after a brief interruption, Silas actually gets a chance to explain…


Jerry glanced at Silas and Captain Nwin. He opened his mouth, but closed it again. Giving the others an apologetic shrug, he backed away and hurried into the kitchen with the cellphone.

“Hello? Jerry?”

He closed the door part way, but he could hear the captain’s voice behind him. “At the train station? The train station?” Then, automatically, he answered the voice on his phone. “Hey, Evie—yeah—yeah, I’m here. What’s up?”

He cringed even before he heard her response. “I know—I’m sorry, but it was after midnight—and we’re three hours later out here, and—”

Part of Jerry’s mind listened and replied to the conversation. Another part heard the footsteps as someone crossed the living room. His front door opened and closed.

Now what?” Jerry started to wonder as he peered out the window, trying to see who had left. “What in the world is—” Jerry caught himself in time. “No, it’s okay. It’s—ah, it’s sort of a—I've got sort of a business meeting right now, okay? Can we talk this afternoon maybe? Everything’s okay with mom, right?”

“Last I heard,” Evie assured him. “Alright. Bye!”

Jerry told her goodbye, closed his phone, and sighed. He could hear a car engine starting outside.

For a moment, he stood in the kitchen, shaking his head. At last, though, he opened the door and went back to the living room. Silas was still waiting there, his back to Jerry as he stared out the back window at the narrow strip of lawn and Jerry’s scraggly row of arbor vitae.

“Not much of a view?” Jerry said.

Silas turned around, smiling just a little.

“My sister,” Jerry explained. He glanced around awkwardly. “So where’d Captain Nwin go?”

“She said she had to get back to work—since nothing had happened to you, I guess.” Silas shrugged. “Actually, she is a police investigator, and she’s trained to like normal explanations for things.”

“And—?” Jerry paused.

“And I don’t?” Silas guessed. He sat down on the couch, and Jerry sat down on the coffee table, across from him. “No—but that’s because the normal explanations don't always fit.”

“Explanations for what?” Jerry demanded.

“For what people remember—or don’t,” Silas said. “Sometimes it’s normal—people do just forget—but then there are times when something strange happens. I’ve heard a lot, everyone trying to explain why it happens. That they saw something, but can’t remember what it was because—well, it must have been just a bird, or maybe an optical delusion. Isn’t that like what you remember?”

Jerry stared at him incredulously. “Honestly? I don’t remember. And that means that I don’t remember anything like this, just that—” Jerry stopped.

“That a couple police officers showed up asking about this photo—or something like it?” Silas asked. He grinned and opened his notebook for Jerry to see.

Jerry studied the photo pasted onto the notebook page with a string of numbers scrawled below it. It was just the corner of a building, trees, shadows— “The Shadow,” Jerry said. “That’s like one of the photos I took, only—”

“That is one of the photos you took,” the old man replied. “It’s the one you gave to Captain Nwin last week. She loaned me a copy of it.”

“And why don’t—didn’t—I remember it?”

“That’s one of the problems I’ve been trying to solve. It’s a little unnatural, if you ask me.”

“Like ghosts?” Jerry asked. “So you’re saying I was seeing a ghost?”

Silas chuckled, rubbing his palms together. “Ghosts or aliens—that’s what everyone says first. No—people like to think that. It’s sort of mysterious and fantastic—if it could be—but then it’s so unlikely that they don’t have to worry about it.”

“You mean—” Jerry asked slowly, “it’s like they can believe in ghosts or aliens without actually having to believe in them?

Silas flipped a couple pages back and handed the notebook to Jerry. “I used to think it was time travelers, actually. I mean, if someone in the future had figured out how to travel back in time, they wouldn’t want people to see them do it—and so they’d have to figure out a way to keep people from seeing it—or else to forget that they had seen it if they had.”

Jerry was staring at the notebook pages. They were full of small scrawls—a few words here and there, but mostly numbers. Row after row of numbers, jostling together on the narrow page. After a moment, though, they slid into order. Jerry looked up. “You were trying to keep track of where they happened—to find out if there was a pattern?”

“That’s right. Only there were too many of them—I realized it couldn’t be time-travelers, not unless there are a great deal more of them in the future than anyone expects. Though there could be. There certainly could be.”

“So what is it?”

Silas rubbed his hands again, thoughtfully, in silence. “I don’t know. But whatever it actually is—well, it must have figured out time travel and teleporting and every other secret of motion man has tried to discover. The thing is—” he paused and glanced at Jerry sharply. “I’ve never heard of a case less than week after it happened. There almost always seems to be a small burst of activity after the first incident. I’ve wanted to try and find out what goes on, but I’m always just a little too late. This would be the first time—the day after…”

He stopped again, and Jerry shifted uncomfortably.

“You want to come along?” Silas asked.

Jerry shook his head, hard. “No—no—why would I? That’s ridiculous.”

(The story continues in Night Shot 12.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

West to Meet the Dawn

(We interrupt our regular program to bring you these pictures. Check back tomorrow evening for episode 11 of Night Shot.)

On a day very recently, I started out here…

…and ended up here…

How does flying this route seem the second time around? Not too bad, but not quite what I expected. It’s hard to say what I did expect from my trip last year, but the second time around I had a better opportunity to notice the little details, from the way the plane tilts up at takeoff to my improvised apple-juice level as I watched the plane’s flight angle change from cruising altitude to descent.

The world looks strange from the sky, high above the house centered between four baseball fields like the heart of a four-leaf clover, and the parking lots lined with tiny orange inchworms that can only be school buses.

And yet, in the brief transit through airports, I found myself flashing back to my trip in the opposite direction last fall. As I came in through the gate I left then, I caught myself looking for the camera I lost there, as if it might be waiting for me after seven months.

But it wasn’t, and by morning I was once more landing in Alaska—only it wasn’t morning. It was still the day before. I don’t usually see 12:05 AM, but that time, I saw it twice in an hour. This is Alaska at midnight (or very close to it):

And from there, back to the mountains…

…the first (for a second time) sight of the lake from the air…

…and some old friends from last year, in a place where it is still barely spring.

The moral for writers: Don’t try to write the story before it happens—it’ll be much more interesting if you just sit back and watch it.

The moral for everyone else (to borrow a quote): “It's a dangerous business—going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Night Shot 10: Interruption

In which Silas tries to explain what happened last night


Jerry and Captain Nwin stared at Silas.

Silas grinned at them sheepishly, but Jerry noticed that the old man was gripping a thin notebook, his hands shaking with excitement as he shook his head. “No,” Silas went on. “I really don’t think Jerry would remember seeing this. Not if the stories I’ve heard have any truth.”

“What stories?” Captain Nwin demanded. “Not those stories again.”

Jerry just looked from one to the other, wishing one of them would explain what they thought he’d been doing—“Or why they cared what he’d doing—or even why he wasn’t supposed to remember what he’d been doing, if he’d been doing it instead of not doing it?

Silas wrinkled one eyebrow, and Captain Nwin frowned at him. “This isn’t going to work,” she said. “I want to know how and why Jerry was wandering around the train station last night, and you want to talk about ghost stories again.”

“I wasn’t at the train station,” Jerry protested. “At least—I don’t remember going to a train station.”

“Isn’t that how it works, though?” Silas asked eagerly. “Isn’t that how it always works? That—”

He broke off, and Jerry heard a phone beeping faintly. Instinctively, he reached for his pocket, but his phone wasn’t there. Then he saw Captain Nwin pull a phone out and turn away to answer it. “Same model as mine,” Jerry thought, before he remembered not to stare at the captain. He turned away, trying to pretend he wasn’t listening.

“Hello?” Captain Nwin said. Her voice changed slightly. “I’m sorry—yes—yes, he’s here—here he is.”

Jerry heard her hiss at him. “Jerry.” He turned back, and she shoved the phone toward him. “It’s yours,” she whispered. He stared at her, and she pushed the phone into his hand. “Your phone,” she insisted. “You lost it, and one of the officers picked it up this morning—at the train station.”

Dazed, Jerry took the phone and answered it. “At the train station? How had it gotten there? Unless he—

“Jerry—Jerry—are you there? Are you alright? What’s going on?”

(And the story continues—in Night Shot 11.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Looking for a Sign?

You could call it the signs of the times, or not…

During a recent trip to the beach, my family and I started to notice some of the unusual road signs along the way. Then I started to realize that they told a story of sorts (or would if they were put into the proper order).

Here you are, at the beginning of your trip:

First, you need a very special kind of bike—one that rides on water. Would this take pontoons, or maybe a paddle bike?

But beware, danger ahead:

So make sure you know which way to turn...
..and how fast to go...

(Oh, wait, that's for cars! Speaking of cars, you'll need to watch out for traffic on the road, from emergency vehicles to crazy drivers on wet roads. This is the coast, after all.)

If all this gets to be too much for you, why not stop by the library for a short rest?

If you do, you'll need to know where the parking is.

And, while you're at it, it's nice to know where both of these places are...

...any injuries yet? Then you can stop by the hospital. Otherwise, why not go swimming? It might be a slightly safer form of exercise. But you are headed somewhere, so eventually you have to get back on the road.

Only a little further, before you'll leave the danger zone behind.

And then the campground is in sight...oh the joy! Walk on the beach, have dinner, and finally to bed.

What signs have you seen recently?

(This post was inspired primarily by the Oregon Coast Bike Route sign. Strangely enough, though, that was the only sign for which I couldn't get a photo myself. I found the  image here, at the official bike route site.)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Night Shot 9: Morning

In which, at long last, after leaving Jerry in darkness, the story returns to him…


A long time passed, and the rain had almost trickled to a stop.

Then Jerry began to stir. Slowly, he got to his feet and checked his camera. He couldn’t think what time it was, all he could see was the faint light bobbing above the train station and darkness all around. After a moment, he felt around in his pockets, wondering what he was missing.

Jerry tucked his camera under his coat and trudged back toward the road. The darkness wheeled and rippled around him, so that he had to feel his way along the edge of the pavement, stumbling in the dark. After about ten minutes, he reached the first streetlight. It seemed an age, though, before he finally reached his car.

When he got home, Jerry carried his laptop and his camera inside. The house was dark, and Jerry went into the kitchen, flicking the light on and setting his laptop on the counter. He felt too tired to think straight, but he mechanically dried his camera, took a hot shower, and at last went to bed.

About nine o’clock next morning, Jerry was barely awake, staring at the dishes in his sink and wondering what he should do for breakfast, when the knock came.

When he reached the door and opened it, he stared blankly for a moment before he recognized Captain Nwin—and Silas.

Jerry mumbled a good morning and stepped back to let them in. Closing the door behind Silas, he followed them into the living room and waited, looking from Silas to Captain Nwin.

The captain spoke first. “So what happened last night?” she asked, tilting her head back and frowning at Jerry.

He shook his head, confused.

“Last night—what were you doing last night?” Captain Nwin repeated.

“I don’t know—took some pictures I guess, and went to bed.” Jerry answered.

Captain Nwin exploded. “You’re not doing that again—you absolutely are not—” Jerry gaped at her. “I won't take it again—and you're going to tell me exactly what you think you’re up to—whatever is was you thought you were doing at the train station and whatever it was that—that—whatever it was that you saw or did or heard.”

She stepped toward Jerry. “Why were you even at the train station? How did you know to go there? What did you see there?”

Jerry shifted uneasily, but Captain Nwin stood glowering at him. “I don’t know,” he insisted. “What about the train station? I don’t even remember being there.”

Captain Nwin’s jaw tightened, but Silas stopped her before she could retort.

They both looked at him, and he shook his head, smiling. “I don’t think Jerry would remember—not if he’d really seen something,” he said softly. “Let’s start with what we do have and see if that helps.”

(What does Silas know? Keep reading with Night Shot 10 to find out!)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Spring Cleanings (of a sort)

“So much time, and so little to do. No, no—strike that—reverse that.”

Yes, we watched the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory recently.

Reflecting on Mr. Wonka's quote, though, I feel a sort of sad amusement, which I'm sure I share with with about 98% of the global population. It’s funny, but it’s far too accurate to be just funny. With so many other things to keep up on (Night Shot posts, for example), I’ve been feeling some of the pressure from the other things I could be doing—including writing about what I am doing these days.

It’s been a time of change.

This week will mark my last time working with a local homeschool co-op. I started tutoring with this group in January, when their previous tutor had to move half way through the school year. I have talked to a couple people about doing something similar next year, but that decision will require a lot of time and thought yet.

After taking the spring off from Spanish class, due to my tutoring schedule, I will be able to return to it officially for the space of two weeks.

Then, in mid-May, I’m heading back to Alaska, to the lodge I worked at last fall.

This time, I’ll be there for about five months. I don’t know what the weather will be like when I get there, but at least the lake appears to be unfreezing. Just a couple weeks ago, this was solid ice:

(April 8th, from the Tanlian Bible Camp Webcam)

Now there’s at least a crack showing:

(May 1, from the Tanlian Bible Camp Webcam)

So, cabin cleaning, hiking, and bear viewing—here I come!

Let’s just hope I have enough time to get all the other projects that need to be done before I leave…done.